Abdelqader Belliraj, a Moroccan-Belgian citizen sentenced to life in prison for supposedly plotting terrorism, is discovered to have apparently been held in abusive solitary detention for over three years, Human Rights Watch reported Friday, January 17.
The mass trial in which he was convicted was marred by serious rights violations as it is largely based on his and co-defendants’ “confessions,” which they said were obtained under police torture, said the rights group.
Belliraj’s wife told Human Rights Watch, he has been deprived of contact with inmates and confined to his cell 23 hours a day since 2016, which would contravene United Nations standards on the treatment of prisoners.
“It is bad enough when a man gets a life sentence as the result of a miscarriage of justice, but keeping him in inhuman prison conditions for years is like twisting the knife,” said Eric Goldstein, acting director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch.
“Abdelqader Belliraj and all prisoners in Morocco should be treated humanely, and that includes having daily contact with other human beings,” added Goldstein.
On November 12, 2019, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Inter-Ministerial Delegation for Human Rights, an official body, inquiring about Belliraj’s isolation. The delegation said they had forwarded the letter to the prison administration, but Human Rights Watch has received no other response.
The “Belliraj affair” made front-page news in Morocco in 2008, when the then-interior minister announced with much fanfare the arrests of 35 men alleged to form “one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations to be dismantled recently.”
Several defendants, including Belliraj, said they were abducted and spent weeks being held incommunicado, while they were interrogated and tortured in police stations. All the defendants said they were either physically coerced or tricked into signing false confessions, which were used later as the principal evidence against them.
Neither the first instance court, which convicted all of them in 2009, nor the appeals court, which upheld the convictions in 2010, investigated their torture claims. Their sentences ranged from suspended prison sentences to life in prison.
In 2012, King Mohammed VI granted his pardon to the journalist, four of the five political figures in the case, and one prisoner with serious health issues. Two others were pardoned in 2017, and 17 have left prison after serving their sentences.
Eight men, with sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison, remain behind bars, as far as Human Rights Watch has been able to determine: Belliraj, Mokhtar Lokman, Abdessamed Bennouh, Mohamed Yousfi, Abdellatif Bekhti, Abdellah Rammache, Jamal el-Bey, and Redouane el-Khalidi. (Source: HRW)